Tag: butterfly

How To Swim Butterfly With World Class Technique

Butterfly is considered the most difficult stroke to master. If it’s swum with improper form, the stroke is extremely tiring and inefficiently slow. If you’re struggling to improve your butterfly, this article is designed for you!

Butterfly was first introduced as a variation of breaststroke in the 1930’s. Originally, the stroke used today’s butterfly arm movement with a breaststroke kick. Today, this isn’t the case, and it’s one of the reasons people can be resistant to working on improving it.

Butterfly is hard, but it doesn’t have to be. Below are the fundamental elements of a proper butterfly stroke:

Butterfly Timing

Timing is the most important part of the stroke. Every other component is an extension of the stroke’s timing:

1) The Catch:

  • Move the body forward to push water back
  • Fingers should be pointing down, with palms facing back
  • Think about bending the elbows so forearm angles vertically
  • Arms should go wide after the entry and extension

2) The Press:

  • Drive body forward with chin and chest
  • Chin should not be tucked or diving down
  • Pressing too deep can compromise the catch
  • 3 actions happen together:
    1. Press body forward
    2. Hands enter/extend forward
    3. Kick
  • Kick your press and entry forward!

Related: Why You Need a Structured Swim Training Plan

The Kick:

  • Two kicks, equal in power and size
  • 2nd kick (at exit) is the kick most often missed because the knees never bend to set it up
  • Drive knee downward (otherwise feet exit water)
    1. Kick hands forward and press forward
    2. Kick breathe forward

Breathing

Breathing too high or at the wrong time will kill a good stroke. The key is to stay low and breathe forward. Having a late breath is key. You need to focus on pulling forward to breathe. If you watch the best swimmers in the world (Michael Phelps below), you can see his chin just barely grazes over the surface of the water to catch air on the breath. The second kick is critical to drive the body forward.

Hand Entry, Pull Pattern, Recovery

The hand entry should be at shoulder width or just wider. The palms are downward facing and the thumbs should come in first or at the same time as the rest of the fingers. The most important part of the hand entry is being controlled so that you don’t create a lot of splash upon entering the water.

Next you need to focus on pushing the water back and initiating an early vertical forearm with your palms, forearm and rest of your arms. The pull pattern is dictated by how deep someone presses their chest and body. The pull’s finish sets the arms up for the recovery. This sweeping recovery should be controlled.

Breathing Pattern

Generally I believe in breathing every other stroke. If a swimmer has a strong underwater presence (12-15 meters underwater consistently) then it makes sense to breathe every stroke to prepare to go back underwater. Breathing every stroke should never compromise rhythm and mechanics.

Underwater Dolphin Kicks

The underwater dolphin kick has become a major component of swimming butterfly. Even if you do not race in competition, having a good kick technique applies to the overall stroke mechanics in keeping rhythm and tempo. In competition, the world’s best swimmers can spend up to 60% of a race under water (Short Course).

Even in long course competition like at the Olympics, the best swimmers are spending a considerable amount of time underwater. The best way to do this in a race is to work on it in training every single day.

Training Butterfly

It’s critical to learn the proper stroke technique before applying heaving training to your butterfly. This is true for all strokes, but most for the short axis strokes like butterfly and breaststroke. Because you’re already so inefficiently low in the water, it’s even more important to have the right technique and body position.

It’s important to reinforce proper technique. Butterfly is a rhythmic stroke. It’s not about power, it’s about mastering efficiency. The longer the distance, the more the stroke depends on posture, line, balance and rhythm.

Butterfly is a stroke that should be trained at speed. You need to focus on maintaining a higher body position with perfect form. Shorter distances of higher repeats are better than doing continuous butterfly. It’s also good to mix freestyle and butterfly within a distance.

For example, doing 10 x 100s (25 Butterfly, 25 Butterfly Drill, 25 Freestyle, 25 Butterfly), is a good way to break apart the stroke and be aerobically challenging.

These technique insights were gathered from a presentation given by Russell Mark, USA Swimming’s National Team High Performance Consultant . You can watch the full presentation, plus more interviews with other coaches here.

Looking for more butterfly workouts and drills? 

The Different Swimming Strokes / Styles

The most common swimming strokes or styles are the freestyle stroke, the breaststroke, the backstroke and the butterfly stroke. They are well-known because they are used in swimming competitions.

collage showing the four competitive swim strokes
The swim strokes used in competitions

Besides these common strokes, other styles of swim strokes exist like the sidestroke, the trudgen, the combat swimmer stroke, etc. They are used less often but can also be fun to learn.

Let’s have a quick overview of these popular swimming strokes now.

The Freestyle Stroke

The Freestyle Stroke or front crawl is often the preferred stroke of seasoned swimmers. It uses alternating arm movements with an above water recovery. The legs execute a flutter kick.

Freestyle is fast and efficient. In fact, it is the fastest of all swimming strokes. That’s why it is used in freestyle competitions and in the swimming leg of triathlons.

Breaststroke

Breaststroke is the most popular swim stroke of all. In breaststroke, both arms execute half-circular arm movements at the same time underwater in front of the swimmer. The arm recovery also occurs under water. The legs simultaneously perform a whip kick.

A young man swimming breaststroke
Breaststroke

Breaststroke is often the first swimming stroke taught to beginners. In fact, many casual swimmers can only swim this stroke.

The advantage of breaststroke is that beginners can keep their head above the water. This avoids breathing and orientation issues. More experienced swimmers, however, submerge their head during the stroke cycle to improve efficiency.

Breaststroke is the slowest of the competitive strokes.

Butterfly Stroke

The butterfly stroke stands out among the competitive strokes because of it’s unique and spectacular technique. It uses a symmetrical arm stroke with an above water recovery. It also uses a wave-like body undulation and a dolphin kick.

A man swimming the butterfly stroke
The Butterfly Stroke

The butterfly is the second fastest swim stroke after freestyle. It has a reputation of being hard to learn and is quickly exhausting. But once you have mastered it, swimming a few lengths of butterfly can be a lot of fun!

Backstroke

As its name suggests, backstroke is swum on the back. It uses alternating circular arm movements and an above water recovery. The legs execute a flutter kick similar to the one used in freestyle.

A woman swimming backstroke with arm extended overhead
Backstroke

In competition, backstroke is faster than breaststroke but slower than butterfly. Physicians often prescribe backstroke swimming to people experiencing back problems because it gives the back an excellent workout.

Sidestroke

The sidestroke is an old swim stroke swum on the side that uses a scissor kick and asymmetrical underwater arm movements.

A man swimming sidestroke
Sidestroke

Sidestroke is not used in swimming competitions and is therefore swum less often nowadays. Nevertheless, it is easy to learn and can be an interesting alternative to the popular swim strokes. It is also used by lifeguards to rescue victims.